Moist, fluffy and tender – these pumpkin cupcakes with caramel cream cheese frosting make for the most delicious fall treat. The cupcakes have a warm pumpkin flavor. Then the caramel cream cheese frosting is creamy, a little tangy and filled with salted caramel sauce.
Every fall I always try to find new, delicious pumpkin treats to bake. Pumpkin and caramel go so perfectly together – thanks to the cinnamon and sweet caramel – and these cupcakes tick all the boxes. The cupcakes are extremely moist and have a soft, fluffy texture that stay tender for days. They’re mildly spiced, as not to overwhelm the caramel frosting, and have a delicious hint of brown sugar to complement the pumpkin. But the best part is the caramel cream cheese frosting. Caramel frosting can be very sweet, but the tanginess of the cream cheese balances out the sweetness. It’s creamy, it’s piled high, and it has the most delicious salted caramel flavor.
Making the Cupcakes
The cupcakes themselves are extremely moist and tender thanks to using oil, 2 eggs and the pumpkin. You won’t taste the oil whatsoever because the pumpkin and spices provide so much flavor. First you’ll whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt). Then in a separate bowl you’ll whisk together the oil, sugars, eggs, vanilla extract and pumpkin puree. The dry ingredients get whisked into the wet ingredients, alternating with a bit of milk. Then it’s time to spoon the batter into your lined muffin pan, and it’s time to bake.
The cupcakes are flavorful, extremely moist, and you don’t even have to take out an electric mixer. Note that I used a combination of spices for the cupcakes, but if you have pumpkin pie spice on hand, I’ve included that substitution in the recipe notes.
Making the Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
For this frosting, I’ve included my preferred salted caramel recipe. To save time, you could use bought salted caramel sauce instead. However, it needs to be high-quality and very thick. Something that comes out of a squeeze tube – such as ice cream sauce – will be too thin and your frosting won’t set properly. You could also use dulce de leche for this recipe too. Once the salted caramel is fully cooled, making the frosting is simple.
Beat the butter until smooth, then mix in your cream cheese. You’ll mix in powdered sugar and the cooled salted caramel sauce. If your frosting seems very thick, you may want to add in a tablespoon of heavy cream, but I didn’t find this necessary. I decorated my cupcakes using a piping bag and a 1M tip because I wanted a very thick layer of frosting. If you plan to frost your cupcakes with a thin layer of frosting using a knife, you could divide the frosting recipe in half. But I find that the frosting is so delicious, I’m never disappointed with having leftovers.
- This recipe was developed using pure pumpkin puree – not pumpkin pie filling. Make sure you’re using 100% pure canned pumpkin, as it is not interchangeable with pumpkin pie filling.
- This recipe yields about 15-16 cupcakes, so you’ll need two 12-cavity muffin pans or to bake the cupcakes in 2 batches. Don’t try to fit all the batter into 12 cupcakes, or they can overflow. Always bake trays 1 at time, or at least both on the same rack if you can fit them. If you bake one tray above the other, the top tray can end up burnt on the top, while the other will be undercooked.
- The salted caramel recipe I’ve included makes about 1 cup. You’ll use ½ cup in the frosting and have about ½ cup extra for drizzling on top of the cupcakes.
- Make sure to use full-fat, brick-style cream cheese for the frosting. Otherwise, it will be too thin.
- Be careful not to over beat the frosting. This can make it too soft. If you do feel it’s too soft to pipe, pop the frosting in the fridge for 15-30 minutes. Then try again.
More pumpkin treats to love:
Pumpkin Cupcakes with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
- 12-cavity muffin pan
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil or canola oil
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar light or dark
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¾ cup pure pumpkin puree NOT pumpkin pie filling
- ⅓ cup milk I used 2%
Salted Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into about 6 pieces
- ½ cup whipping cream
- ½ teaspoon sea salt or coarse salt
Cream Cheese Caramel Frosting
- ¾ cup unsalted butter softened but still firm
- 4 ounces full-fat cream cheese softened but still firm
- 2-3 cups powdered sugar
- ½ cup salted caramel sauce
- Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees. Line muffin pans with baking papers. This recipe will make about 14-16 cupcakes in total. So I line 1 pan fully and a few papers in the middle of a second pan.
- In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- In a separate large bowl whisk together the oil, white sugar, brown sugar and eggs until no lumps remain. Then whisk in the pumpkin until smooth.
- Whisk about ½ of the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture, followed by milk. Then whisk in the rest of the flour mixture until no lumps remain.
- Spoon the batter into the lined muffin tins so that each muffin paper is filled about ⅔ - ¾ full. You should end up with about 14-16 cupcakes in total. I do not recommend trying to fit all the batter into 12 cupcakes. Otherwise, they can overflow.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
- Cool in the pan for 10-20 minutes, then carefully remove from the pan and continue cooling on a wire rack.
Salted Caramel Sauce
- Measure out all of your ingredients first so that they're ready to go.
- Add the sugar to a medium saucepan over medium heat.
- Heat the sugar while occasionally stirring. It will first form lumps and then melt into a deep amber color.
- Once the sugar is completely melted and there are no lumps of sugar, add in the butter while whisking constantly. The mixture will bubble up, so be careful.
- Once the butter is fully melted and looks incorporated, turn the burner down to a lower setting and whisk in the cream until incorporated. The sauce should look smooth and even in color.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt. Let the caramel cool fully before using it in the frosting.
Cream Cheese Caramel Frosting
- Beat the butter until smooth.
- Then mix in the cream cheese. Stop mixing as soon as its combined.
- Beat in 1 cup powdered sugar. Then beat in ½ cup of fully cooled salted caramel sauce. (Note that the recipe for salted caramel sauce above will make about 1 cup in total - make sure you don't add it all into the frosting).
- Then beat in the rest of the powdered sugar about ½ - 1 cup at a time, until the desired sweetness is reached. If needed, beat in 1 tablespoon of cream.
- Frost the fully cooled cupcakes either with a knife, or transfer to a piping bag and frost. I used a piping bag and a 1M piping tip.
- Optionally, drizzle the top of each cupcake with more caramel sauce.
- Pure Pumpkin: Make sure you're using 100% pure canned pumpkin puree and not canned pumpkin pie filling. This recipe was designed with pure pumpkin and will not have the same results if using pumpkin pie filling.
- Spices: You can substitute the combination of spices with 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice, or 1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice for a slightly milder spice flavor.
- Salted Caramel Recipe: The recipe provided will make about 1 cup of sauce. The frosting recipe will only calls for ½ cup. So you'll have leftover caramel sauce for drizzling on top of the cupcakes. If you'd like to save time and purchase salted caramel instead, make sure to choose something that's very thick and high quality. Something that comes in a squeeze bottle is too thin for making frosting. Dulce de leche will work too.
- Cream Cheese: Always use full-fat, brick-style cream cheese for frosting. It should be slightly softened but not warm. Take it out of the fridge baout 15-30 minutes before making the frosting.
- Nutrition: Details are an estimate only and based off of 1 cupcake with frosting but without an extra drizzle of caramel on top. It assumes that the recipe yields 16 equal-sized cupcakes and that all the frosting is used. It is an estimate only.
- Make Ahead Tips: Cupcakes can be made 1 day in advance. Cool fully then store overnight in an airtight container at room temperature. You can make the caramel sauce the day before, cool fully, then store in an airtight container in the fridge. Make the frosting the day you plan to serve.
- Storage: Store cupcakes in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw in the fridge.